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Chopper puts out campfire got out of control on remote peak

July 17, 2012

ST. HUBERTS - On the ground and from the air, state forest rangers battled a small forest fire on an Adirondack High Peak on Monday.

The Sawteeth Mountain blaze has so far consumed roughly a quarter of an acre in the privately owned Adirondack Mountain Reserve in the town of Keene. The fire, which rangers believe was sparked by an unattended or improperly extinguished campfire, is located on a lower-elevation shoulder of the 4,100-foot Sawteeth, at the end of a spur trail that leads to a lookout called Marble Point.

From below on Lower AuSable Lake, a line of charred black trees and rising smoke could be seen at the top of a 150-foot cliff that forms the southeast side of the ridge. At one point, a plume of bright orange fire shot up an estimated 25 feet into the air.

Article Photos

A fire burns Monday on Sawteeth Mountain in the town of Keene, as seen from Lower AuSable Lake.

Photo/Chris Knight

The fire was initially spotted Sunday by people camping and hiking in the area, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger Kevin Burns.

"We were flying for a rescue (Sunday) in the Feldspar area, and our dispatch called and said someone had reported smoke on the Sawtooth range," Burns said Monday afternoon. "So we did a fly around and spotted the smoke on the ridge. We went and completed the rescue and came up with a game plan for today to attack it."

Burns requested a state police helicopter from Albany, and a command post, including a refueling site for the helicopter, was set up Monday morning at Marcy Field in Keene Valley.

The two-man crew in the helicopter, a pilot and a forest ranger, initially flew three rangers carrying chainsaws and other equipment to the site of the fire. Then it spent much of the rest of the day scooping up load after load of water from the lake using a specialized, 275-gallon bucket - called a Bambi Bucket - that's suspended on a cable below the helicopter. Each load of water was mixed with fire retardant foam, flown to the ridgeline and dumped on the blaze.

Meanwhile, a team of four rangers had hiked up the mountain from below after DEC received a report that fire had also been spotted at the bottom of the 150-foot cliff.

"The bottom crew is actually finding very little sign of any fire, which is a promising thing," Burns said around 4:30 p.m. Monday. "The upper part of the fire is pretty hot, and it's going to be hot for a few days.

"They took a chainsaw with them up there, and they're trying to cut a line. The game plan was to cut a line and start digging a fire line, which means digging down to the bedrock or mineral soil so we can get a nice control line around it so that ground fire doesn't creep out."

While the size of the fire is small, the steep and rocky terrain has made the blaze difficult to access, Burns said.

"Looking up from the lake, you can see that 150- to 200-foot ledge; to put people on the top of the ledge in that terrain, it's very dangerous. They were instructed not to go to the edge. I don't want somebody to get hurt."

The rangers on the ground were hoisted out of the woods by the helicopter Monday evening. Burns said they're planning to use the same plan to fight the blaze today.

"That top side is going to take a few days to get that thing knocked down," he said. "And our fire weather doesn't look good for the rest of the week. It's going to cool down a little bit, but still there's not much rain in the forecast."

Staff at the AuSable Club, which owns the Adirondack Mountain Reserve, didn't allow paddlers and other boaters to use Lower AuSable Lake while the helicopter was doing its bucket drops Monday. They also advised hikers to keep off the trails in the Sawteeth Mountain area.

This fire is just the latest in a string of more than a dozen forest fires in the Adirondacks that have consumed 23 acres since July 1, according to DEC. Most have been sparked by campfires. The department is urging campers to use gas stoves rather than open campfires.

"The backcountry campers need to be very, very careful with fire," Burns said. "They probably shouldn't have a fire at this point. You set a fire on the ground, you think you put it out, but it probably isn't out. It's going to creep into the duff. A week later it pops back up, and then we have a problem."

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or



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